Classics Sosipatra
Crystal Addey, Regina Fichera
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 September 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0281


Sosipatra was a female philosopher and prophetess in the 4th century CE. She was associated with Neoplatonism, particularly with Iamblichus’s philosophical circle, and was linked with the Chaldean tradition and, by implication, with the Chaldean Oracles. She married Eustathius, an important pupil of Iamblichus and one of his main philosophic successors alongside Aedesius and Sopater. Although Sosipatra is reported to have established her own philosophical school in Pergamon (in Asia Minor) alongside the school of Iamblichus’s chief philosophical successor, Aedesius, none of her own philosophical writings survives and we only hear of this female philosopher in one ancient biographical work: Eunapius’s Lives of the Philosophers and Sophists (Vitae philosophorum et sophistarum). Despite this, it is difficult to doubt her historical existence, given that she is so closely linked with a range of historical figures who played important roles in 4th-century social, intellectual, and political events, including her husband Eustathius, her fellow philosophical teacher Aedesius and her students, Maximus of Ephesus and Chrysanthius. Although he never names her as such, Eunapius presents Sosipatra as an accomplished and advanced theurgist with ritual and divinatory expertise. Sosipatra’s oracular expertise is reported to have included a kind of clairvoyant, psychic power, whereby she could “see” events happening at a distance in the past, present, and future. She is consistently represented as a “holy woman” or “divine woman”—following a typical trend to portray philosophers as holy or divine in Late Antiquity—with considerable spiritual, divinatory, and philosophical expertise. One of her three sons, Antoninus, is reported by Eunapius to have also become a holy man who purportedly predicted the destruction of the Serapeum in Alexandria in 391 CE. Sosipatra was almost contemporary with the much more well-known Neoplatonic female philosopher Hypatia. However, she has not received the level of attention from scholars, writers, and poets that Hypatia has, although recently there has been more interest in Sosipatra from classicists and historians of Late Antiquity.

General Overviews

Detailed examinations of Sosipatra’s life and philosophical activities within the context of Eunapius’s Lives of the Philosophers and Sophists and within the landscape of late antique philosophical biography can be found in Penella 1990 and Urbano 2013 respectively. Clark 1993 locates Sosipatra’s life within the context of pagan and Christian female lifestyles in Late Antiquity, while Fant and Lefkowitz 1995 includes her within the authors’ sourcebook about the lives of women in Greco-Roman antiquity. O’Meara 2003 and Denzey Lewis 2014 discuss Sosipatra specifically within the wider contexts of evidence for female philosophers in antiquity, with O’Meara additionally locating her carefully within Iamblichus’s philosophical circle from Syria and Asia Minor and, more broadly, in relation to the roles of women in the Platonic tradition. Both Fant and Lefkowitz 1995 and Luck 1985 contain excerpts on Sosipatra drawn from Eunapius’s work, while Luck 1999 also includes a brief but useful introduction to the female philosopher. Pack 1952 characterizes Sosipatra’s biography as a romantic narrative containing folktale elements. Johnston 2012 and Denzey Lewis 2014 both consider Sosipatra as a theurgist within the context of Neoplatonism. Theurgy was a type of religious ritual used by late antique Neoplatonist philosophers for the contact, assimilation and, ultimately, union of the soul with the divine.

  • Clark, Gillian. 1993. Women in Late Antiquity: Pagan and Christian lifestyles. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    A useful introduction to the lives of women in Late Antiquity which locates Sosipatra within the wider, traditional life pattern of late antique women philosophers.

  • Denzey Lewis, Nicola. 2014. Living images of the divine: Female theurgists in Late Antiquity. In Daughters of Hecate: Women and magic in the ancient world. Edited by Kimberly B. Stratton and Dayna S. Kalleres, 274–297. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195342703.003.0009

    This study examines Sosipatra as a female theurgist and philosopher within the context of a wider exploration of women philosophers in the late antique philosophical tradition, focusing particularly on gender issues.

  • Fant, Maureen B., and Mary R. Lefkowitz. 1995. Women’s life in Greece and Rome. A source book in translation. London: Duckworth.

    Reprint of the 1992 second edition (first edition published in 1982). This study of women in antiquity includes Sosipatra (as well as Hypatia) and excerpts sections of her biography from Eunapius’s work in chapter 10 (“Religion”) under the subtitle “Late Pagan ‘Saints.’” For Sosipatra, see pp. 333–334.

  • Johnston, Sarah Iles. 2012. Sosipatra and the theurgic life: Eunapius Vitae Sophistorum 6.6.5–6.9.24. In Reflections on religious individuality: Greco-Roman and Judaeo-Christian texts and practices. Edited by Jörg Rüpke and Wolfgang Spickermann, 99–117. Berlin: De Gruyter.

    A detailed examination of Sosipatra within her theurgic context, examining her role as a theurgist within the context of Iamblichus’s system of theurgy, Neoplatonism, and the Chaldean tradition.

  • Luck, Georg. 1985. Arcana Mundi. Magic and the occult in the Greek and Roman worlds. Baltimore: John Hopkins Univ. Press.

    A sourcebook containing excerpts from Eunapius’s account of Sosipatra’s life and her divinatory and philosophical activities which are drawn from the Lives of the Philosophers and Sophists, together with brief annotations. The excerpts on Sosipatra are in the chapters on “Divination” and “Miracles.”

  • Luck, Georg. 1999. Witches and sorcerers in classical literature. In Witchcraft and magic in Europe. Vol. 2, Ancient Greece and Rome. Edited by Valerie Flint, Richard Gordon, Georg Luck, and Daniel Ogden, 91–158. London: Athlone.

    A wide-ranging survey of witches and magical ritual practitioners in ancient Greek and Latin literature, which locates Sosipatra and her ritual expertise within this context. On Sosipatra and her son Antoninus, see pp. 151–152.

  • O’Meara, Dominic. 2003. Platonopolis. Platonic political philosophy in Late Antiquity. Oxford: Clarendon.

    Sosipatra is located within the wider context of Iamblichus’s philosophical community in Syria and Asia Minor (p. 18) and within the framework of the roles of women within the Platonic tradition (p. 83), particularly within the Neoplatonic reception and endorsement of women as having the natural capacity for philosophy and wisdom as set out in the radical proposals about women and their role as “philosopher queens” in Plato’s Republic.

  • Pack, R. 1952. A romantic narrative in Eunapius. Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 83:198–204.

    DOI: 10.2307/283385

    An examination of Eunapius’s account of Sosipatra which emphasizes the romantic character and folktale motifs of the story of her childhood training by Chaldean priests. The motif of the theoxenia is emphasized: in folk literature gods disguised in human form frequently visit humans to scrutinize their virtuous provision of hospitality (or lack thereof). Available online by subscription.

  • Penella, Robert J. 1990. Greek philosophers and Sophists in the fourth century A.D. Studies in Eunapius of Sardis. Leeds, UK: Francis Cairns.

    The only English-language study of Eunapius’s Lives of the Philosophers and Sophists. A detailed and thorough reading of Eunapius’s biographical work, including discussion of textual and historical problems. This book is also valuable as a study of the philosophical world of the Eastern Roman Empire in the 4th century CE. Sosipatra is examined especially on pp. 58–62.

  • Urbano, Arthur P. 2013. The philosophical life: Biography and the crafting of intellectual identity in Late Antiquity. Washington, DC: Catholic Univ. of America Press.

    This study examines Sosipatra within the context of late antique philosophical biography, which is viewed as an arena of philosophical competition. Sosipatra is compared with the female Christian “holy woman” Macrina.

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